Ask The Staff Or Do Your Own Research #BrewedAwakening

By / Wine + Drinks / March 5th, 2018 / 3

Times have changed in the beer business. When we used to hang out in taverns in the 80s the bartenders didn’t know anything about the beers they were slamming down on our tables, other than that it was from the local version of a big brewery and it was cold, fizzy and cheap.

These days we expect a lot more of our servers than pressuring us to buy another tray of tiny draft beers. At least that’s true at any bar/pub professing to be a beer destination.

That said, it’s still possible to find old school taverns that only sell big brewery stuff and where the servers aren’t into flavourful beer. I went to one last week. The Timberlea Beverage Room, just outside Halifax, was one of my gang’s regular spots back in the day. I went there recently to meet a friend for a quick beer, and ended up with an Olands Export, an Anheuser-Busch InBev product. No microbreweries on tap. It was fine.

Most of the places I go to now, though, have at least a few good microbrewed beers on tap, and one or two staff members who know about beer. That’s important. I was in Vancouver last week for the incredible Vancouver International Wine Festival #VIWF, and had a chance to pop out for the odd beer at local pubs. I had to hit up Steamworks, since I went there just after they opened over 20 years ago. Their Pale Ale still tastes great.

I do get to try BC micros from time to time that are sent to me for reviews or brought in to my local liquor store, and I’ve judged the Canadian Brewing Awards a bunch of times, but the number of new BC breweries is such that I enjoy some guidance. I’d rather ask the staff than Google it, unlike Millennials, perhaps. Staff should know the style, the bitterness, the body, the alcohol, and what food or situation it goes with.

If the staff don’t know about the beers they serve, problems can happen. At one pub I saw they had a tap beer listed on the board as a Pale Ale from Port Moody’s Twin Sails. I asked the server and they didn’t know details, so I just ordered it, expecting a 5% alcohol West Coast Pale Ale or maybe even a British style (unlikely in 2018, the norm in 1988). Turns out it was their version of a juicy, cloudy IPA. I don’t care for these beers, although theirs was well made in that style. Either way, that was NOT a Pale Ale. My bad. I should have researched it before ordering.

At The Alibi Room, Vancouver’s most reputed beer bar, I didn’t have a problem with staff knowledge. They seemed to know the beers on the menu well, and had an opinion. I like that. They were also super friendly and helpful. I couldn’t find a single English Bitter, but had a smooth, balanced German Style Maarzen Amber Lager from Steel & Oak in New Westminster, a low alcohol, lightly spicy Belgian Table Ale from Dageraad in Burnaby, and a dark, thick, spicy and strong Weizenbock from Moon Brewing in Victoria.

Sometimes when you ask the staff and tell them what you want, you’ll get a good beer. As you should.


Craig Pinhey discovered good drink circa 1985 at Ginger’s Tavern/Granite Brewery in Halifax and has been writing about beer, wine and spirits for 25 years. A Certified Sommelier and BJCP judge, Craig lives in New Brunswick where he runs his own writing and consulting business and is the beverage columnist for Brunswick News. He is the only person to have judged all of the national wine, spirits and beer awards of Canada.

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